Exploring Arctic Policy from an Inuit Perspective
By Nadine C. Fabbi, Managing Director, Canadian Studies Center, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies Michelle Koutnik, Research Assistant Professor in Glaciology and Ellen Ahlness, Graduate Student in Political Science and Elizabeth Wessells, Graduate Student in Anthropology, University of Washington
During the fall of 2019 we led a new course on how Arctic policy could incorporate a more Inuit-centered perspective.
The course was one of the capstone offerings for International Studies majors in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington (UW). Within just ten weeks, the nine undergraduate students of this “Task Force” were to tackle a major international policy issue, produce a final report, and present that report to an outside expert.
We were inspired by Canada’s recent Arctic and Northern Policy Framework (2019), which is unique in international Arctic policy. It was co-developed with the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), the national Inuit association in Canada, and includes chapters from ITK and also from Nunavut. If policy is the lingua franca of international relations, as well as a tool for activism by non-governmental organizations, then this policy was surely a model for our students.
Arctic environmental change, especially Arctic sea ice loss, is critically impacting people living in the Arctic, and the implications must be addressed by Arctic policy. We encouraged the students to think creatively about ice – to think about ice as a living thing, as having memory, as constituting territory, and as a human right – and to explore it through the lenses of science, culture, history, law, and art. We also encouraged them to incorporate the science of ice into their policy reports.
A key learning goal of the course was to understand some of the major issues occurring in Inuit communities as a result of sea ice change, and more importantly how Inuit organizations are influencing Arctic policy in Canada and internationally. During a week-long research trip to Ottawa, the students got to meet with colleagues at Nunavut Sivuniksavut, the Inuit post-secondary school; staff from ITK and the Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada; scientists at Canadian Ice Services; and senior policy analysts at Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. We also visited four Embassies of Arctic nation states. All these meetings facilitated the students’ understanding of how the Government of Canada co-developed its Arctic policy with the ITK, and what this means in terms of effective policy development.
The students had just few weeks to research and write their papers. Their research spanned how ice changes affect Arctic communities – in particular shipping, mining, and waste – and Arctic wildlife; explored the relationship between permafrost and building infrastructure; investigated Inuit legal theory and Western law, Inuit rights and the environment, self-governance and environmental change; and considered how art bridges experience with policy. In the words of one student, “Before this experience, I felt overwhelmed about writing policy. However, I now feel like I have a grasp on how to complete this assignment [and] also to consider a possible career in policy after graduation.”
Canada’s current Arctic policy was an inspiration for our class to explore what policy could look like to address changes in Arctic ice as felt by Inuit communities. Making ice central to our study of policy we hoped to give it a voice that may have at least a modest influence on its future.
The final drafts of the students’ research are featured in a special issue of the Jackson School’s Arctic and International Relations Series (AIRS). The issue will be available by the end of July on the AIRS website: